It’s been a long time since Jose Ferrer and James Whitmore have had their names above the title on a film, and it’s good to report that they live up to their billing in “Old Explorers” (AMC Century 14), fledgling Minneapolis filmmaker William Pohlad’s adaptation of James Cada and Mark Keller’s two-man play.
In fact, the veteran actors are so strong they oversell what is not a very good movie. “Old Explorers” has not made its transition from stage to screen with consistent effectiveness; the poignance Ferrer and Whitmore generate is undercut by the tedium of talky stretches of theatrical dialogue.
Ferrer and Whitmore play retired widowers who escape the loneliness of old age by imagining themselves as great explorers in search of such romantic locales as Shangri-La, Atlantis, and Ponce de Leon’s elusive Fountain of Youth. While Pohlad takes advantage of the film’s unique resources by transporting the two dreamers to actual deserts, jungles and the like, he is over his head in in the tricky art of making a play cinematic. Not helping matters is that the characters he has added, most notably Ferrer’s ineffectual son (Jeff Gadbois) and unsympathetic daughter-in-law (Caroline Kaiser) seem contrived and one-dimensional.
There’s no denying, however, that “Old Explorers” certainly drives home the plight of the aged in our society and that its heroes’ flights of fancy underline the true state of isolation, neglect and lack of respect so frequently accorded even to alert and affluent older Americans. Individually and especially together, Ferrer and Whitmore are a treat, with the dry humor of Ferrer’s character contrasting amusingly with his more conservative friend.
They make you wish you were watching these splendid actors performing in “Old Explorers” (rated PG; some scenes may be too intense for the very young) on the stage rather than on the screen.
Jose Ferrer: Warner Watney
James Whitmore: Leinen Roth
Jeff Gadbois: Alex Watney
Caroline Kaiser: Leslie Watney
A Taurus release of a River Road production. Writer-Director William Pohlad. Based on the play by James Cada and Mark Keller. Producers David Herbert, William Pohlad, Tom Jenz. Cinematographer Jeffrey Laszlo. Editor Miroslav Janek. Music Billy Barber. Production design Peter Stolz.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
MPAA-rated PG (some scenes may be too intense for the very young).